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New Zealand Travel Guide

Best Places to Visit

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                                          Overview   Best Places to Visit    Detailed Map   Additional Resources

   
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New Zealand has so many outstanding places to visit that it is difficult to choose among them. We know that your vacation time is both brief and valuable. Our recommendations for the best places to visit will help you find the right place for your vacation in New Zealand. 

In addition, to the information we provide, we include links to the official  tourism websites for the cities or areas we recommend.  When we are unable to find an official tourism website, we provide what we think is the most informative of the commercial-tourism websites for that location. Hopefully, the combination of our information and that from other authoritative sources will help you discover what  you need to know for planning a trip to New Zealand.

Be sure to note that the  seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are the opposite of the Northern Hemisphere.  During our summer, the Kiwis are experiencing winter. So if you want to ski in Queenstown, July and August can be the heart of the season. If you are not a skier, don't let the concept of winter stop you from taking your summer vacation in New Zealand, since the snow usually stays at the higher elevations.

 

A trip to New Zealand should cover the country's two major islands, which are named the North Island and the South Island.  Although both islands are interesting and filled with adventure, we recommend that you spend the majority of your time on the South Island.   In our opinion, the South Island is pretty close to paradise. 

Unfortunately, a catastrophic earthquake savaged Christchurch, on the South Island in February, 2011.  Numerous deaths were reported and Central Christchurch was destroyed for all practical purposes.  The effect that this calamity will have on the South Island's tourism is unclear at this time, but some rebuilding has commenced.
 

We have created a New Zealand travel map to show you the detailed locations of the Best Places to Visit in New Zealand.   The base map is a Google product overlaid with our recommendations.  The New Zealand map cannot be used to produce routings, but is does have satellite image background if you click the satellite button on the map display.

The Lord Of the Rings and The Hobbit

For those of you who are fantasy fans, significant portions of the epic movie trilogy Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit were filmed in New Zealand.  In the North Island town of Matamata you can find the sets used to film the village of Hobbiton for both movies. See this website  for more details.

If you are really a fan of these books and associated movies, Google "Lord of the Rings and the South Island of New Zealand" to find the companies that offer tours of the Lord Of The Rings filming locations.  Queenstown and other areas of the South Island were backdrops for much of the movie, although later digitally enhanced.

We did mention the volcanoes, didn't we?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Deluxe Middle Earth Filming Locations Lord of the Rings Trilogy Helicopter Tour

From Viator Tours

 

 

 

 

Best Places to Visit in New Zealand Top of Page  

Names in Teal are regions/areas of New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

South Island Photograph of river rafting in New Zealand

The South Island is sparsely populated and brimming with outdoor adventure.  You may see landscapes and scenery that you have not seen before, packaged in the most beautiful and, sometimes, surreal environments.

One popular way to see the South Island is a drive that starts at Christchurch (see earthquake information under Christchurch heading), heads to Mt. Cook, down to Queenstown, over to Fiordlands NP, up through Westland NP, and crossing to the North Island using the ferry from Picton to Wellington. For information on the Interislander Ferry that connects the islands, visit this site. 

During this period of uncertainty surrounding the future effects of the Christchurch earthquake damage, it might be preferable to begin your tour of the South Island at Picton after arrival in Auckland or Wellington on the North Island.)

  • Queenstown

    • Queenstown, sited on the shore of beautiful Lake Wakatipu, is surrounded by the  luscious  beauty of a mountain chain known as the Remarkables (and, indeed, they are remarkable).  The town is the focal point for a large and diverse recreational area.

    • Queenstown is a place where you can "sit and think" or participate in various outdoor activities, some of them quite unique. The shopping is OK but limited and cultural attractions are sparse.

     

    Queenstown, New Zealand is a great place for an adventure vacation

     

    • We doubt that you will tire of the view of the Lake at Queenstown and suggest that you take one of the many cruises available.  We recommend a voyage on  the TSS Earnslaw, an older, coal-fired steamship that somehow fits the area like a comfortable glove.

    • For other attractions in Queenstown, visit the area's official tourism website.

     


  • Fiordland National Park

    • The Fiordland NP is one of the wildest areas in New Zealand and one of the most beautiful (and this in a country where the comparatives are superlatives). Even if you do not want to tour Fiordlands, be sure to plan a trip to Milford Sound.

      • See the website of New Zealand's Department of Conservation for details on visiting the Fiordland National Park  
      • Another useful site, if you are thinking about visiting the Fiordlands is provided by the Regional Tourism Organisation (RTO) for the Fiordland area.  It has a great amount of detail on activities, places to stay and dining out.

  • Milford Sound Photograph of one of Milford Sound's many waterfalls. 
    • We think that cruising  Milford Sound (a glacial fjord/fiord) is worth the cost of the trip to New Zealand. The Sound's scenery is spectacular - do not miss it!

    • Milford Sound is part of the Fiordlands National Park, so see the links above for more details on visiting.

    A journey to Milford Sound is the trip of a lifetime

    • Most   rental car agreements prohibit you from driving your rental on the road to Milford Sound.  The Milford Road is subject to avalanches and landslides and is often closed on short notice.  We recommend you sign-up for a tour and leave the driving to someone else. For information on the conditions along the Road to Milford Sound, visit this site.

  • Te Anau

    • The lake and town have the same name and this is a good  place to start your tour of Fiordlands National Park. The Lake is beautiful but remote and a prime area for recreational activities.  Consider it for a day trip from Queenstown.

      • Many of the tours of Milford Sound leave from the Te Anau area, so consult the Fiordlands.org site for more details.


  • Westland Tai Poutini National Park    

    • Driving the west coast of the South Island is highly recommended.  You will pass through rainforest and then find yourself exploring active glaciers.  The scenery is spectacular.  The driving can be challenging but is well worth the effort.  See the New Zealand Department of Conservation website for more information on the surrounding National Park.

     
    • Fox Glacier/Franz Joseph Glacier 

      • See either or both of these glaciers.  They are the most visited attractions in the Westland NP and relatively close to the main highway, although they have receded over the past decade.

  • Mt. Cook  Photograph of the snow clad Mount Cooke    

    •  During most of your trip on the South Island, Mt. Cook will be staring over your shoulder.  Give in and visit the spectacular scenery of Mackenzie Country.

      • Although not an "official" website, MtCooknz.com  provides useful details on this area, as well as great photos.

  • Abel Tasman National Park 

    • If you have time, this park in the northwest features a beautiful coastline and an interesting coastal track for the hiker.

    • Visit the New Zealand Department of Conservation's website for more information.


  • Christchurch  Click for a chart of Christchurch's annual ranges of precipitation and temperature.    

    • Due to its International Airport, Christchurch is the starting point for many visits to the South Island.  Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island and the second largest in New Zealand. 

    • In February, 2011 Christchurch suffered a devastating earthquake and aftershocks that resulted in a number of fatalities. In addition,  a  portion of the central city  was destroyed by the seismic episode.  The extent of the damage was catastrophic and the future of Christchurch as a tourist destination is unclear at this time.

    • Christchurch sits almost in the center of the South Island's Canterbury region, a scenic area that includes coastline, mountains and the scenic Canterbury Plain. 

    • If you have time when in the Christchurch area, head out to the Banks Peninsula and visit the village of

      • Akaroa 

        • A small, colonial, coastal town, situated on a collapsed volcanic cone  that gives the area a unique and scenic setting.  The drive from Christchurch to the Banks Peninsula is a delight but you may need to slow to allow the sheep to use the road. Look for the bakery when you enter town, the breads are wonderful.

        • Although not an official website, Akaroa.com   provides  good detail on the attractions and activities available in this scenic, coastal area.

         

        Akaroa has a delightul setting,

North Island

The North Island is the economic and political focus of New Zealand.  While it does not have  scenery comparable  to the South Island, it does offer a unique culture, interesting cities, and the Maori Cultural Heartland at Rotorua.

  • Rotorua   

    • Rotorua, with its geothermal hotspots, beckons  to the tourist, as it must have attracted the Maoris over a half millennia ago.  The city is fairly touristy, but the Rotorua region is worth a visit.

      • Visit Rotoruanz.com , the area's official tourism website, for more details on visiting.

        The Rotorua Museum is a great place to spend  some time learning about the Maori culture.

  • Lake Taupo    Photograph of Champagne Pool, a geothermal attraction in New Zealand   

    • Lake Taupo is the center of a volcanic area noted for its geothermal activity.  The lake itself sits in a collapsed crater (caldera) and provides good fishing and great scenery.  The region between Lake Taupo and Rotorua is riddled with geysers, and hot springs that make for interesting touring (see this site for information on the geothermal areas).

    • See the website of the marketing agency of the Great Lake Taupo region for extensive details on visiting this attractive location.


  • Auckland  Click for a chart of Wellington's annual ranges of precipitation and temperature.    

    • Due to the presence of its international airport, Auckland is often the beginning or the end of a vacation in New Zealand.  If you arrive here,  tour the city, perhaps sail to one of the nearby islands, while spending some time to let the jet lag wear off.

    • If you need a "city fix" after too much time in the country, Auckland is a great city in a pleasant setting.

    • See the official tourism website of Auckland   for detailed information on visiting.


  • Wellington     

    • New Zealand's capital offers good restaurants and a ferry terminal to the South Island.

    • The official tourism website of Wellington has impressive details on events, attractions and accommodations in the Wellington area.


  • Ninety Mile Beach  

         Ninety Mile Beach is stunning in its simplicity and beauty

  • Although not for everyone, Ninety Mile Beach is heaven for those who like to drive along the ocean (not to mention driving on the beach).  Located at the top-end of the North Island, Ninety Mile Beach is part of the Northland, an area of New Zealand that is compelling due to its pristine coastal environment.

     

  • Wine Regions

    • There are several areas of the North Island that are well-known for viticulture and the country's wines are slowly gaining an international following.  Perhaps the best of the wine-growing regions are along the coast in Auckland, Waikato Bay, the Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay.

Additional Resources

The official tourism website for New Zealand is New Zealand 100% Pure .  The site provides additional details on visiting the best places to visit in New Zealand that we recommend, along with details on towns and attractions that are not on our list.

For county facts on New Zealand, or travel information such as laws for driving, medical treatment issues, personal safety and more, visit the U.S. State Department's page on New Zealand. We recommend the State Department's travel information to anyone planning a trip to New Zealand.

If you need information about another travel destination, try our Destination Guide Index or Googling ThereArePlaces.

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New Zealand has many beautiful lakes.

 

 

Franz Joseph Glacier, Westlands NP. South Island

 

 

The Remarkables, bordering Queenstown, South Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Geothermal area near Lake Taupo, North Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christchurch, New Zealand offers many delights

  

 

 

 

 

 

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